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Reclaiming Khazad-dûm  by Ellynn

Darri had a feeling that he was trying to pass through a solid wall. Only a few dwarves in the beginning of the tunnel heard the information about the transport of the wounded and moved aside. But after only several steps, he ran into the wall of bodies and shields descending towards the hall, into the battle.

"Move away! Move to the side! We are carrying the wounded!" he shouted.

They progressed very slowly; on almost each step he clashed with someone, and he shouted they should move away over and over again. But not even shouting helped much; it just wasn't possible to be much louder than the noise in the tunnel. Knowing that every moment is important – the images of red, scorched flesh remained in his head – he didn't hesitate to push aside all those who, in his opinion, hadn't moved quickly enough. He now understood why the Guardsman had picked him to clear the way; someone smaller just wouldn't have the chance. Many of those whom Darri pushed grumbled loudly, but he paid no attention to them. They had to hurry.

"Make way! We are carrying the wounded!!!"

A step. Then, bumping into someone. Then, pushing. And more pushing. Those three hundred feet now seemed at least twice longer.

Finally, they somehow managed to reach the Sixth Level and entered the Nineteenth Hall. In it there were some more of those still waiting to go down and join the battle, and the healers were in the next hall. But now it became much easier, because the hall was big and not crowded, and the tunnel towards the Twentieth Hall was short and almost empty. As Darri was not carrying anybody, he was now able to run. He raced through the tunnel and rushed into the hall. Arriving there, he stopped just for a moment and looked around, and then quickly moved towards the two nearest healers. But his running drew the attention of several more healers even before he spoke, and many heads turned to him.

"In a few moments the wounded arrive! There was an explosion, and all of the wounded are heavily burned!" he reported in one breath.

Having heard the news, one older healer took the initiative.

"The two of you start preparing the salve against burns," he said to the two of his young colleagues, and then he addressed the assistants. "Bring more cold water at once!"

Soon, the dwarves carrying the victims started entering. One by one, the wounded were laid down onto free pallets, and healers and their assistants started working immediately.

Darri then moved aside not to be in their way. He intended to return to the Fifth Level and join the battle. Faldur was not among those involved in the transport but stayed down, so the concern for his brother pulled him back there, too. But the burning feeling over his chest which he didn't even notice while pushing the way through the tunnel – when his one and only goal was to reach the hospital – now returned. I'll just catch my breath after the run, and I'll surely be better. Then I go back, he decided.

He found a small part of empty space next to one wall, and there was also one free chair. As it seemed that no one needed it now, he sat down and took a deep breath.

Which was a very bad move, he realized in the very next moment. As his chest expanded to take more air, the whole surface of the chest hurt him badly. He clenched his teeth and during the next few moments he breathed very shallowly, trying not to move at all. When the pain diminished, he made a test: he cautiously lifted his right arm and made a few moments as if fighting with a sword in his hand. The movements of the muscles, which caused the new movements of the burned skin, sent new waves of pain. He closed his eyes.

Hopefully I'll soon be better, he tried to convince himself again. I have to go back to my duty. And I must be close to Faldur. I'll just wait a little bit more until the pain abates...

When he opened his eyes, he saw a healer standing right in front of him. He was young; Darri judged they were about the same age. He was short and skinny, and had almost the same blond hair as Darri.

"You look like we are related," said the healer with a broad smile, at the same time pointing towards his hair and beard, alluding to how rare that colour was among their people. His eyes were smiling too, and some of his cheerfulness seemed to pass to Darri. He managed to smile in spite of the pain.

"Who knows, if we compared our family trees, maybe we'd find we share some ancestor," replied Darri, but as he moved while speaking, his smile turned into a grimace.

"Well, maybe one day, but surely not now, buddy," said the healer merrily and lifted his hand, swaying his index finger as if warning a naughty child. "Now we have work to do. More precisely, I have work to do. I am sure that you are somewhat well baked too." Then he pointed his still lifted finger towards Darri's chest, that is, his chainmail. "Look at this."

Darri lowered his gaze and discovered that the grey steel links became black. No wonder, he thought, remembering how he jumped over the poor guy who was burning.

"And besides the burned gear, there is an inscription all over your forehead – 'I am in pain'. Follow me, my friend. We go to my little corner, where I have my equipment," said the healer with another smile.

"It is that obvious?"

"No," the lad shook his head. "To an untrained eye, you'd only look exhausted. But I've been trained to notice the signs." He winked. "It would be veeeery bad if I couldn't see."

Darri then stood up, and when he rose to his full height, he exceeded the healer by almost a foot. He stared at Darri for a few moments, astonished.

"By Mahal's name, what did they feed you with, so that you grew that much? Are you sure you don't have some human among your ancestors?" asked the healer with his eyes wide open and his neck bent back. "No, we are definitely not related. Everyone in my family is short. I actually grew the most – I am taller than my father and both grandfathers and my brothers." Then he shook his head and laughed, and again gave Darri the sign to follow.

They took a few steps among busy assistants hurrying from one healer to another. Darri then sat on an empty pallet to which the healer pointed.

"Now we'll somehow take this off you. But to start with, let me introduce myself – I am Vestri, your healer."

"I am Darri son of Brirvin," responded Darri. The mention of father's name made him sad.

Taking off his chainmail and tunic was not painless at all, and when he looked, Darri realized he shouldn't be surprised. The skin over all his chest and stomach was red.

"Oh, I didn't think it would be this burned," said Darri, surprised.

"You fared much better than the others, my friend," said Vestri, now serious. "But this isn't a joke either. Lie down."

When Vestri put the cold wet cloth over his chest, in the first moment Darri started. But in the next moment he decided that the feeling of cold on the burned skin is actually very welcome.

"Lys!" called Vestri, and Darri saw a dwarfess stopping next to them. She carried a big tray and on it, from what Darri could see from his lying position, several jars of different sizes. "A salve?"

"Yes. Prepared just now," answered the woman and squatted next to Vestri.

He took one jar and nodded. "Thanks."

"Can you manage alone, or do you need help?" she asked.

"I can. This is a simple case. You go where you'll be needed more," he smiled and winked. She then rose and left, and Vestri devoted his attention to Darri's burns.

The salve was also somewhat cold, and it seemed to be effective very quickly; by the moment when Vestri put it on the last inch of his skin, Darri had the feeling that, on the part that was smeared first, the burning feeling had already diminished.

"There it is," said Vestri with a tone of satisfaction in his voice, and his eyes shone. "Covered completely. Your condition is also serious, but as I said, you were really lucky, compared to some others."

Still lying, Darri looked left and right. On his left, he couldn't see anything but the backs of the two healers bent over their patient. But on the other side, he could partially see the wounded dwarf too. The skin on the bigger part of his body was red and black, scorched and covered with big bloody blisters.

"Huh. Yes. Very lucky," he said in a low voice. He uttered a silent prayer for all the wounded, and then looked at Vestri.

"So, I am finished now?" asked Darri and raised to a sitting position. He felt a little irritation, but not nearly as bad as before. The salve works, he thought. "Before going back to battle, I'll have to find a new tunic, because mine is destroyed," he said, looking at the tunic he wore before. It was burned and unusable, and he didn't want to put chainmail directly on his skin. "Perhaps I could go outside to the camp, and find the new one among my things..." he continued his muttering, actually thinking aloud.

Hearing that, Vestri started to laugh loudly, and Darri looked at him, puzzled.

"Buddy, you can't go anywhere," said the healer when he caught his breath. "My patients sometimes give me a good laugh, and you are no different than the majority. So, let's repeat. Your. Condition. Is. Also. Serious." He uttered those words slowly, emphasizing each. "You are forbidden to do any activity involving sword or axe for at least one day. And the thing that is contrary to forbidden, that is, the thing that will be mandatory, is putting a new dose of the salve on every three hours. Sleeping – allowed only on your back, and no other way. And only tomorrow evening, when I see the situation then, I'll decide what is allowed for you next and what is not."

"But... but... I should go back. That is my duty. Besides... my brother is there," said Darri.

Vestri observed him for several moments. Slowly, his face became completely serious, which was a big contrast to his behaviour till now. He had been smiling and joking since the first moment, and Darri concluded it was a part of his personality and his approach to patients. Vestri's current seriousness became even more prominent as the silence lengthened.

"I understand both," said the healer softly. "But you must not go to battle now. You wouldn't even be able to – your movements are limited. You'd be a very easy prey for the opponent. Yet, as your burns are a milder case, you have good chances of returning to the battlefield soon." He fell silent again, but his lips formed a smile and his eyes shone – just like before. "But you know what? You mentioned duty. If you want to be useful, and I understand you do, you can help me. There is a battle going on, and soon the wounded will be transported here. You can work next to me and hand me bandages, healing herbs and equipment. There aren't enough assistants at the moment. What say you?"

Darri thought for a short while, at the same time moving his right arm in different directions, just as he had tried earlier. The salve helped, but it still hurt; with a heavy heart, he had to admit – though not aloud – that Vestri was right. He couldn't wield his sword now.

In the end, he nodded. He would prefer going to battle, but if that wasn't possible... well, Vestri's suggestion enabled him to be at least a little bit useful.

But I won't be absent more than a day, he decided firmly. I am no weakling. With constant applying the salve, I'll surely be fine by tomorrow evening.

"And you know what? You'll have to see a barber soon," added Vestri cheerfully. "That fire somewhat ruined your hair and beard. I'm afraid you couldn't impress the girls right now," he grinned.

Just as Vestri predicted, the wounded really started to arrive very soon and there were many. Darri had absolutely no knowledge about healing, and more than once, Vestri had to point his finger to what he needed because Darri didn't know the names of different instruments or herbs. But somehow, he did manage to perform those little tasks and felt at least a little helpful.

And he was thinking of his brother all the time.

When Vestri told him to lie down to put another dose of the cream over the burned skin, Darri was surprised because it seemed to him that the three hours had passed very quickly. He could say the same for the next three too – there was a lot of work and time flew. The healers were really busy and barely managed to do everything in time. Those with minor wounds were treated by the assistants, and some were directed to the Seventh Level, into the Twenty-first Hall.

Faldur was not among the wounded – and Darri earnestly hoped he wasn't among the fallen.

The night slowly went on and finally, a little before dawn, together with the last wounded dwarves came the news that the Eighteenth Hall and the two little neighbouring caves were conquered. The first step to taking over the Fifth Level was made.

New, fresh squads immediately went down to go further; at the same time, those who fought till now got a well-deserved break. Darri looked towards those coming from below and passing next to one wall, and when he spotted Faldur, alive and uninjured, he breathed a sigh of relief and smiled. And in that moment, he felt so full of energy that he thought he could continue to help Vestri for the whole next day.

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